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Read the (Appropriations) Bill!

Like crocuses poking through the snow signaling the coming of spring, the first appropriations bills for fiscal year 2015 have been introduced.

H.R. 4486 is the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015. It would spend about $1,500 per U.S. family.

And H.R. 4487 is the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2015. It’s modest cost: about $34 per family.

If you’re a budding government overseer (budding like a crocus poking through the snow), the legislative branch bill offers you a little opportunity to practice your trade. You see, it’s a relatively short bill. (Short relative to other spending bills, that is.) You can read through it and have some idea of where the money goes.

Go to the page for H.R. 4487, and in the “Learn More” box, click on “Read the bill.” You can scroll through whichever bill version you like.

See how much money goes to House leadership offices, members’ representational allowances (what they spend representing you in Congress), committee employees, standing committees, and so on.

Keep reading! There’s the money for the Capitol Police, Congressional Budget Office, the Architect of the Capitol and Capitol Visitor Center. The Library of Congress runs the Copyright Office and the Congressional Research Service. There they are.

There’s more. The bill would create a “Center for Audit Excellence” in the Government Accountability Office. Think it’s a good idea? A boondoggle?

How about sending $3,420,000 to the Open World Leadership Center Trust Fund for financing activities of the Open World Leadership Center? Good idea or bad?

You can also read the committee’s report on the bill. In the “Learn More” box, click on “Read an Analysis of the Bill.”

It has a nice summary of the bill in comparison to FY 2014 spending and the president’s FY 2015 spending request. It looks like this:

The new bill spends more in some places and less in others. What do you think of the differences?

If you care enough to weigh in with your representatives and senators, you can pick an item and tell them what you think about it. Then follow along to see whether they do anything consistent with your wishes. That’s not easy, but it’s kind of your job as an American citizen, so give it a try. We’ll keep trying to make this information easier to access. You can access it right now by reading the appropriations bill!

(0 comments | Categories: Appropriations/Budget » )

WashingtonWatch.com Digest – April 14, 2014

This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of April 14, 2014. Subscribe (free!) here.

On the Blog: The DATA Act!

A major effort to improve government transparency took a step forward this past week with Senate passage the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013. The House is likely to pass the bill when Congress returns at the end of April, and President Obama should sign the bill into law.

Read about it in a post entitled: “Senate Passes Data Act.”

Featured Item

The House and Senate do not meet the next two weeks.

Last week, the Senate passed S. 994, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013.

The DATA Act would increase transparency in federal spending by requiring the government to publish spending data in standard formats, making the data downloadable and fully searchable.

Passage of the DATA Act would cost about $2.70 per U.S. family.

S. 994
The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013
Costs $2.69 per family

What People Think

Click here to vote on The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013. Click here to vote on The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013.

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013
66% For, 34% Against

Vote on this Bill


Displayed below are new, updated, and passed items with their cost or savings per family.

New Items

S. 224
The San Francisco Bay Restoration Act
Costs $0.13 per family

S. 491
The Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development Act of 2013
Costs $4.41 per family

H.R. 1800
The Small Business Credit Availability Act
Saves $2.63 per family

S. 1294
The Tennessee Wilderness Act
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 1934
The Clifford P. Hansen Federal Courthouse Conveyance Act
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 2042
The Clean Estuaries Act of 2014
Costs $1.30 per family

H.R. 863
The Commission to Study the Potential Creation of a National Women’s History Museum Act of 2013
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 2657
The Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2013
Costs $0.05 per family

H.R. 4121
The Small Business Development Centers Improvement Act of 2014
Costs $0.04 per family

H.R. 2452
The Women’s Procurement Program Equalization Act of 2013
Costs $0.26 per family

H.R. 4323
The Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2014
Costs $5.46 per family


Updated Items

none


Passed Items

P.L. 113-97
The Cooperative and Small Employer Charity Pension Flexibility Act

P.L. 113-98
The Children’s Hospital GME Support Reauthorization Act of 2013
Costs $12.87 per family

(0 comments | Categories: The Week Ahead » )

Senate Passes Data Act

A major effort to improve government transparency took a step forward this past week with Senate passage of S. 994, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013. The House is likely to pass the bill when Congress returns at the end of April, and President Obama should sign the bill into law.

The DATA Act will require the federal government to standardize and publish all executive branch spending information. This will enable sites like ours—and many other resources—to produce better reports on how the government spends taxpayer money. Take a look at the handy video from the Data Transparency Coalition to learn more.

Online publication of federal spending information would include virtually all forms of government spending. Information would be made available in forms that are both easily searchable and downloadable. The bill requires agencies to provide data in a uniform manner. And agency compliance with the law’s mandates would be audited.

The DATA Act should facilitate increased public oversight of the federal government, flushing out waste, fraud, and abuse, and improving the effectiveness and efficiency of federal spending programs. We plan to use the data once it’s available to provide you better information about goings-on in government.

We wrote about our support for the DATA Act in the last Congress and encouraged you to help push for it in the Senate.

Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced S. 994, joined by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH). The House version, H.R. 2061, is also a bipartisan bill, introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD).

Don’t expect instant results. The federal government is a big organization and it will take a couple of years of hard work to turn around its processes and make them more transparent. But the course set by the DATA Act is a good one.

Here’s the current vote on the DATA Act. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

(1 comment | Categories: Appropriations/Budget » )

WashingtonWatch.com Digest – April 7, 2014

This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of April 7, 2014. Subscribe (free!) here.

On the Blog: The House Budget

The entire picture is obscured by archaic budgeting practices, but we go through some of the numbers in the House’s budget proposal for fiscal 2015 in a post entitled: “The Ryan Budget, Sliced and Diced.”

Featured Item

This week, the House will debate H. Con. Res. 96, the House budget proposal for fiscal year 2015, which begins October 1st.

A budget does not expend any funds, but the budget established by H. Con. Res. 96 would lead to spending of about $27,500 per U.S. family.

H. Con. Res. 96
Establishing the budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2015 and setting forth appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2016 through 2024
Costs $27,563.78 per family

What People Think

Click here to vote on H. Con. Res. 96. Click here to vote on H. Con. Res. 96.

H. Con. Res. 96
50% For, 50% Against

Vote on this Bill


Displayed below are new, updated, and passed items with their cost or savings per family.

New Items

H. Con. Res. 96
Establishing the budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2015 and setting forth appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2016 through 2024
Costs $27,563.78 per family

S. 42
The Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act of 2013
Costs $0.02 per family

H.R. 4195
The Federal Register Modernization Act
Saves $0.00 per family

H.R. 4197
The All Circuit Review Extension Act
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 2157
The Commonsense Medicare SGR Repeal and Beneficiary Access Improvement Act of 2014
Saves $63.14 per family


Updated Items

none


Passed Items

P.L. 113-92
The Philippines Charitable Giving Assistance Act

P.L. 113-93
The Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014

P.L. 113-94
The Kids First Research Act of 2013
Saves $0.11 per family

P.L. 113-95
To provide for the costs of loan guarantees for Ukraine

P.L. 113-96
A bill entitled “United States International Programming to Ukraine and Neighboring Regions”

(0 comments | Categories: The Week Ahead » )

The Ryan Budget, Sliced and Diced

Last week, the House Budget Committee chaired by former vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) produced a proposed fiscal year 2015 budget. It goes to the House floor this coming week.

Over years, the administration, House, and Senate have developed customs around budgeting that make their work quite difficult for ordinary people to understand. But at least we can get a look at the numbers.

Below are two different perspectives on the budget. The first chart below is the classic layout of anticipated budget numbers from fiscal year 2015 to 2024. Revenue is money coming in, of course. Budget authority is legal authority to spend, while outlays refers to actual dollars being expended. On-budget deficits are only part of the deficit picture. And there are two ways of calculating debt that mean different things to budgeteers.

Take a look at the numbers and where they head over time.

H. Con. Res. 96 – Recommended Levels and Amounts
Year Revenues Budget Authority Outlays Deficits (on-budget) Debt Subject to Limit Debt Held by the Public
2015 $2,533,841,000,000. $2,842,226,000,000. $2,920,026,000,000. -$386,186,000,000. $18,304,357,000,000. $13,213,000,000,000.
2016 $2,676,038,000,000. $2,858,059,000,000. $2,889,484,000,000. -$213,446,000,000. $18,627,533,000,000. $13,419,000,000,000.
2017 $2,789,423,000,000. $2,957,321,000,000. $2,949,261,000,000. -$159,838,000,000. $19,172,590,000,000. $13,800,000,000,000.
2018 $2,890,308,000,000. $3,059,410,000,000. $3,034,773,000,000. -$144,466,000,000. $19,411,553,000,000. $13,860,000,000,000.
2019 $3,014,685,000,000. $3,210,987,000,000. $3,185,472,000,000. -$170,787,000,000. $19,773,917,000,000. $14,080,000,000,000.
2020 $3,148,637,000,000. $3,360,435,000,000. $3,320,927,000,000. -$172,290,000,000. $20,227,349,000,000. $14,427,000,000,000.
2021 $3,294,650,000,000. $3,460,524,000,000. $3,433,392,000,000. -$138,741,000,000. $20,449,374,000,000. $14,579,000,000,000.
2022 $3,456,346,000,000. $3,587,380,000,000. $3,577,963,000,000. -$121,617,000,000. $20,822,448,000,000. $14,940,000,000,000.
2023 $3,626,518,000,000. $3,660,151,000,000. $3,632,642,000,000. -$6,124,000,000. $20,981,807,000,000. $15,080,000,000,000.
2024 $3,807,452,000,000. $3,706,695,000,000. $3,676,374,000,000. $131,078,000,000. $21,089,365,000,000. $15,176,000,000,000.

Another perspective on the budget is available by looking at the “functional categories” of spending. Read the rest of this entry »

(2 comments | Categories: Appropriations/Budget » )

WashingtonWatch.com Digest – March 31, 2014

This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of March 31, 2014. Subscribe (free!) here.

On the Blog: Obscure but Important

A pair of bills to change how federal government agencies estimate the costs and benefits of legislation could have important long-term effects.

Are “baseline budgeting” and “dynamic scoring” mumbo-jumbo to you?

Well, “It’s the Obscure Bills that Make the Difference.”

Featured Item

This week, the House will debate H.R. 2575, the Save American Workers Act of 2013. The bill would redefine “full-time employee” for purposes of the employer mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Employers would be required to provide insurance to workers employed on average at least 40 hours a week rather than 30 hours per week.

Passage of H.R. 2575 would cost a little over $225 per U.S. family.

H.R. 2575
The Save American Workers Act of 2013
Costs $228.07 per family

What People Think

Click here to vote on The Save American Workers Act of 2013. Click here to vote on The Save American Workers Act of 2013.

The Save American Workers Act of 2013
46% For, 54% Against

Vote on this Bill


Displayed below are new, updated, and passed items with their cost or savings per family.

New Items

H.R. 1259
The Coltsville National Historical Park Act
Costs $0.08 per family

H.R. 3674
The Federal Spectrum Incentive Act of 2013
Costs $0.23 per family

S. 1737
The Minimum Wage Fairness Act
Saves $83.86 per family

H.R. 3786
To direct the Administrator of General Services, on behalf of the Archivist of the United States, to convey certain Federal property located in the State of Alaska to the Municipality of Anchorage, Alaska
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 2149
The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014
Costs $134.25 per family

S. 2122
The Responsible Medicare SGR Repeal and Beneficiary Access Improvement Act of 2014
Saves $2,177.79 per family

S. 40
The American Liberty Restoration Act
Saves $3,583.22 per family

H.R. 1192
To redesignate Mammoth Peak in Yosemite National Park as “Mount Jessie Benton Fre’mont”
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 3366
To provide for the release of the property interests retained by the United States in certain land conveyed in 1954 by the United States, acting through the Director of the Bureau of Land Management, to the State of Oregon for the establishment of the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center of Oregon State University in Hermiston, Oregon
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 4032
To exempt from Lacey Act Amendments of 1981 certain water transfers by the North Texas Municipal Water District and the Greater Texoma Utility Authority, and for other purposes
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 3998
The Albuquerque, New Mexico, Federal Land Conveyance Act of 2014
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 4192
To amend the Act entitled “An Act to regulate the height of buildings in the District of Columbia” to clarify the rules of the District of Columbia regarding human occupancy of penthouses above the top story of the building upon which the penthouse is placed
Costs $0.00 per family


Updated Items

H.R. 2413
The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act of 2013
Costs $3.15 per family

S. 2124
The Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014
Costs $3.45 per family


Passed Items

P.L. 113-88
The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Non-Intercourse Act of 2013
Costs $0.00 per family

P.L. 113-89
The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2013
Costs $2.66 per family

P.L. 113-90
The HHEATT Act of 2014

P.L. 113-91
A joint resolution providing for the reappointment of John W. McCarter as a citizen regent of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution

(0 comments | Categories: The Week Ahead » )

It’s the Obscure Bills that Make the Difference

A couple of bills received cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office last week. (Well, actually, their cost estimates from last year were finally posted.) The estimates don’t matter much—their costs are negligible—but the fact of getting a CBO score means that they’re serious bills, which may move through Congress in the near future. So let’s take a look at H.R. 1871, the Baseline Reform Act of 2013, and H.R. 1874, the Pro-Growth Budgeting Act of 2013. These obscure bills may make a lot of difference.

The Baseline Reform Act would change how “baseline budgeting” is conducted.

In service to Congress and the executive branch, CBO and the Office of Management and Budget prepare projections of federal spending and revenues. When they review the bills in Congress, current law requires them to assume that spending will increase with inflation. This is called a “rising baseline” because the path of spending in many programs is assumed to rise. The CBO and OMB reports reflect how spending will differ from the baseline, not how they will differ from actual spending in the past.

The “rising baseline” has some unusual effects. It makes increases in spending appear smaller because they are nearer to the rising baseline than current spending. It makes reductions in growth appear as though they are cuts. And it makes actual cuts appear quite a bit larger when these agencies publish their reports. We use them, Congress uses them, and lots of media use these reports in public debates. According to the House Budget Committee, the rising baseline assumes approximately $1.2 trillion more spending over ten years.

H.R. 1871 removes the inflationary assumption from these reports, requiring that the baseline assume neither an increase nor a decrease for discretionary spending programs. CBO and OMB spending would be estimated by comparing it to spending in previous years rather than that rising baseline.

H.R. 1874, the Pro-Growth Budgeting Act of 2013, tinkers with CBO reporting another way. The bill requires CBO to produce a “supplemental macroeconomic analysis” for major legislation. The analysis would describe the likely impact of major bills on key economic variables such as business investment, the capital stock, employment, labor supply, and real Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The analysis would look at both the short-term and long-term economic impacts of bills—going out four decades—and it would include estimates of revenue increases or decreases resulting from changes in real GDP.

Sometimes, for example, a tax cut may spur economic growth that ultimately increases tax revenues. Or a tax increase may retard economic growth, causing revenues to fall. The new analyses would include this information.

The House Budget Committee says that CBO would use “a wide variety of economic models as well as the broad spectrum of empirical economic research and academic scholarship” to produce its reports “in order to reflect the full range of possible economic outcomes resulting from a bill.”

The bill is not non-controversial. Democrats led by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD) wrote in the bill’s committee report that this dynamic scoring methodology is “favored by Republicans because its subjective nature lends itself to the make-believe theory that tax breaks for the wealthy pay for themselves due to trickle-down economics.” The bill excludes “spending on investments” because bills reported by the Appropriations Committee “contain investments that foster economic growth.”

The small, obscure changes to government policy in these bills could have large effects on debates about spending for years to come. As often as not, it’s the obscure bills that make the difference.

And, as always, the right answer is what you think. Below are the current votes on H.R. 1871 and H.R. 1874. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki articles about the bills.

(3 comments | Categories: Appropriations/Budget » )

WashingtonWatch.com Digest – March 24, 2014

This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of March 24, 2014. Subscribe (free!) here.

On the Blog: Increasing Medicare Payments

If Congress doesn’t pass legislation by April 1st, Medicare payments to health care providers will drop. The nation’s Medicare doctors don’t want their payments to go down.

Read about it in a post entitled: “Medicare Costs Money.”

Featured Item

Along with legislation to increase Medicare payments, the Senate may consider a bill to extend unemployment benefits this week.

S. 2148, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, would renew unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, retroactively paying those whose benefits expired in late December. Customs fees and money collected from corporate pensions would offset the new spending.

Passage of S. 2148 would cost about $160 and raise the national debt by a little under $15 per U.S. family.

S. 2148
The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014
Costs $160.30 per family

What People Think

Click here to vote on The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014. Click here to vote on The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014.

The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014
40% For, 60% Against

Vote on this Bill


Displayed below are new, updated, and passed items with their cost or savings per family.

New Items

H.R. 1501
The Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument Preservation Act
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 3222
The Flushing Remonstrance Study Act
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 37
The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act of 2013
Costs $0.22 per family

H.R. 3678
To redesignate the lock and dam located in Modoc, Illinois, commonly known as the Kaskaskia Lock and Dam, as the “Jerry F. Costello Lock and Dam”, and for other purposes
Costs $0.00 per family

S. 2110
The Medicare SGR Repeal and Beneficiary Access Improvement Act of 2014
Costs $1,404.15 per family

H. Con. Res. 92
Authorizing the use of the Capitol Grounds for the National Peace Officers Memorial Service and the National Honor Guard and Pipe Band Exhibition
Costs $0.00 per family

H. Con. Res. 88
Authorizing the use of the Capitol Grounds for the Greater Washington Soap Box Derby
Costs $0.00 per family


Updated Items

H.R. 935
The Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2013
Costs $0.00 per family


Passed Items

none

(0 comments | Categories: The Week Ahead » )

Medicare Costs Money

Since 1966, the U.S. federal government has administered Medicare, picking up much of the tab for the health care of Americans aged 65 and older, younger people with disabilities, and victims of a few select diseases.

To try and control costs in the Medicare system, in 1997 Congress created the “sustainable growth rate.” The idea was to ensure that the yearly increase in Medicare costs would not exceed the growth in gross domestic product. Every year, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the Department of Health and Human Services sends a report to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which includes a calculation of the change in payments for physician services that will be needed to keep Medicare’s growth rate “sustainable.”

But Congress has regularly undercut the SGR’s cost-control process. It delayed the enforcement of SGR in the Temporary Extension Act of 2010, for example, and again in the Continuing Extension Act of 2010. The Preservation of Access to Care for Medicare Beneficiaries and Pension Relief Act of 2010 not only delayed implementation of the SGR, but increased reimbursements by 2.2%. So did the Medicare and Medicaid Extenders Act of 2010, which prevented a 25% decrease in Medicare reimbursements from taking effect on January 1, 2011.

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 again delayed application of the SGR until January 1, 2013, when the cut was to be 27.4%. Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 on January 1, 2013, which set the SGR to 0% for that year. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 delayed SGR’s effects once again, until April 1, 2014.

In the next week, the House and Senate are likely to put off SGR’s reductions in Medicare payments once again. The SGR would reduce payments by about 24% if they were allowed to go into effect now.

Good, strong lobbying muscle that health care providers have built up over years mean strong consensus in Washington that SGR’s cost controls should go away once again.

Last week, the House passed H.R. 4015, the SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act of 2014. That bill would keep Medicare payments flowing, paying for that additional spending by delaying Obamacare’s individual mandate until 2019. H.R. 4015 saves about $440 per U.S. family, decreasing their $172,000 share of the national debt by a little under $320.

H.R. 4015 got twelve Democratic votes in the House, but messing with Obamacare is a non-starter in the Senate. A bill in the Senate to keep up the Medicare spending is S. 2110, the Medicare SGR Repeal and Beneficiary Access Improvement Act of 2014. Cost: about $1,400 per U.S. family. It, or something like it, will probably pass the Senate this week. And it will probably pass the House, once again pushing back the sustainable growth rate … and Medicare’s sustainability.

(2 comments | Categories: Entitlements, Health Care » )

WashingtonWatch.com Digest – March 17, 2014

This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of March 17, 2014. Subscribe (free!) here.

On the Blog: Russian Power in Ukraine and Europe

With conflict between Russia and Ukraine continuing to grow, a bill to shift the power balance was recently introduced in Congress. And that means “power” in a couple of different senses.

Read about it in a post entitled: “Gas for Europe, Indigestion for Russia.”

Featured Item

The House and Senate do not meet this week.

Last week, Senate negotiators agreed on a bill to renew federal unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, including retroactive payments to those whose benefits expired in late December. Customs fees and collecting more money from corporate pensions would offset the new spending.

Passage of S. 2148 would cost about $160 and raise the national debt by a little under $15 per U.S. family.

S. 2148
A bill to provide for the extension of certain unemployment benefits, and for other purposes
Costs $160.48 per family

What People Think

Click here to vote on S. 2148. Click here to vote on S. 2148.

S. 2148
50% For, 50% Against

Vote on this Bill


Displayed below are new, updated, and passed items with their cost or savings per family.

New Items

S. 2124
The Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014
Saves $2.54 per family

S. 2148
A bill to provide for the extension of certain unemployment benefits, and for other purposes
Costs $160.48 per family

H.R. 2131
The SKILLS Visa Act
Costs $2,314.84 per family

H.R. 2548
The Electrify Africa Act of 2013
Saves $0.77 per family

H.R. 4138
The ENFORCE the Law Act of 2014
Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 3973
The Faithful Execution of the Law Act of 2014
Costs $0.00 per family


Updated Items

H.R. 4015
The SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act of 2014
Saves $440.90 per family


Passed Items

P.L. 113-87
The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act
Costs $0.00 per family

(0 comments | Categories: The Week Ahead » )